Think big again — how leaders of small creative teams can beat project paralysis.

Brands have always expected creative teams to function like short-order cooks — especially those operating in-house, says John Meese, executive creative director at BambooHR. What’s changed in the 20 years since Meese got his start is the size of those orders. Where once a higher-up might have asked Meese and his team for a quick turnaround on an ad, they now come looking for entire campaigns. “My internal designers are handling everything from podcasts and events to white papers,” he said.

For Meese and others like him, these ballooning expectations rarely come with corresponding increases in team sizes. Instead, creative leaders must find ways to retool their process and relationship with other teams to maximize everyone’s time and talent. It’s a tall ask, but not an impossible one — thanks to research-backed, expert-tested strategies like the ones below.

Strategy 1: Cut down on side projects.

You may not have the latitude to simply say no to projects the C-suite hands you, but in Meese’s experience, neither are you powerless when it comes to shaping your team’s overall load. One method for doing so is simply increasing awareness among higher-ups of everything they’re asking creative professionals to handle at any given time. 


“Unless it legitimately only takes 10 minutes, everything someone asks us to do gets a project ticket,” Meese said. This way, he is able to present all the requests in planning sessions when all the stakeholders are in the room. “I tell them, Okay, I have this much capacity. Where do you really want me to spend my time?” Inevitably, Meese leaves the room with fewer priorities than when he entered. 


Of course, a certain amount of “shoulder-tap work” is inevitable, which is why he’s always careful to reserve time in his junior designers’ schedule for these smaller, time-sensitive tasks. 

This way, he’s able to free up his senior staff to focus on big-picture assignments. “These are the projects that need a little bit more thought, clarity, and collaboration with the executive team — projects that can’t be turned and burned quickly,” he says.


Strategy 2: Be relentless about gathering information upfront

Over and over, Meese has watched members of his team accept a half-baked content brief and launch into a project — only to get halfway through before realizing they’re missing critical context. “This happens when the content brief doesn’t really force everyone to think through the project before we start on it,” he said. 


Turns out he’s not alone. In a 2019 survey of 550 creative and marketing professionals, 72 percent reported that obtaining the necessary information to get started on a project is the number one offender when it comes to tasks stealing time from creative work. 


To date, Meese has yet to find one content brief template that prevents these kinds of time-sucking holdups in every case. Rather, he is an advocate for adapting briefs based on both the type of project and experience levels of those involved. The goal is to develop a document that forces all involved to fully digest the project, including possible issues or unexplored opportunities, early in the process. Better yet, don’t wait for a brief to start learning about a project. 


“Ten years ago, I would have raised eyebrows if I’d asked another department whether someone from creative could sit in on a strategy meeting. But I position my team as strategic partners, not ticket takers. Now, they’re sitting at more tables.” True, more meetings means less time spent creating. But Meese has found the investment well worth it. Iterations on projects have declined “materially” as a result of this exchange of expertise earlier in the process, in part, he says, because “we all get on the same page quicker.”

“Ten years ago, I would have raised eyebrows if I’d asked another department whether someone from creative could sit in on a strategy meeting. But I position my team as strategic partners, not ticket takers. Now, they’re sitting at more tables.”

John Meese

Executive Creative Director, BambooHR

Strategy 3: Stay nimble.

You’ve reigned in the number of side projects — particularly for your top talent — and equipped your team with all the project details they need to get started. Now it’s time to start assigning your team tasks and deadlines.


Meese’s advice: Think small, not just in terms of tasks but timelines, too. When he arrived at BambooHR, the creative team operated in quarterly cycles. Today, the process is organized around three-week sprints. The switch has forced the creative professionals, as well as their marketing and executive stakeholders, to think in smaller, more nimble timelines and goals.


As a result, a website redesign no longer represents a single, giant undertaking that goes live all at once, but rather a series of smaller projects rolled out one by one. The same goes for a large campaign. Meese’s advice is to start with a single asset that can serve as a template for all the items to follow. Not only will this help your team work faster, it also gives you the chance to A/B test concepts along the way, resulting in a better final product.


New demands, new strategies.

We’ve all been there — standing on the precipice of a giant project, dreading the moment you finally jump. It’s easier to focus your team’s limited resources on fixing typos and designing one-off ads. Fortunately, there’s a solution to this paralysis. By spending more time planning a project and shortening the timeline for deliverables, creative leaders can tackle even the most daunting projects in-house, on-deadline, and on a budget.


What’s more, the days of siloed departments are quickly ending. Now is the time to take advantage of this broader shift in work culture to help grasp and shape big projects early in their development. That way, you’ll be able to identify flaws in big project proposals before they start soaking up your team’s time — and even bend some of them toward their strengths. In the end, your employees — and your customers — will thank you.

Adobe can help.

Adobe Creative Cloud for teams gives you the world’s best creative apps and services in a single, secure, integrated platform. With 20+ industry-leading apps, Creative Cloud Libraries for keeping assets in sync across apps and devices, and 1TB of storage per user, this complete creativity solution is designed to support your business at every stage of growth. Plus, you can count on simplified license management and total control over your software to help your team stay focused on creating great work.